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  The beginning of end for the Legal Services Commission's Specialist Quality Mark (SQM)?

While it may very well be, it is important to say immediately that a firm that wants to continue to hold a franchise or tender for Legal Aid work must have either the SQM or LEXCEL.

The firm must have one of these quality standards, so if it already has the SQM, it is important not to let compliance lapse until it has obtained LEXCEL.

When tender time arrives again, as it most certainly will, one of these Quality Marks will be required as one of the entry criteria.


Legal Aid firms can now have either LEXCEL or SQM.

LEXCEL has risk management requirements built into the standard which are always useful at Professional Indemnity Renewal Time, or when applying for scheme memberships such as the new Conveyancing Quality Scheme.

With some foresight, a very good risk management framework was written into the Guidance to the SQM 2003 but was never implemented and made mandatory by the LSC, and for some reason, the 2009 SQM does not adopt it either.

LEXCEL is a recognised professional standard that extends beyond legal aid work.

Given the benefits of an accreditation which is now well known by the PII Insurance market because of its emphasis on risk management, it has to beg the question as to why any firm would chose to retain the SQM over LEXCEL?

The audit

The LSC managers will no longer audit the SQM. It will be outsourced.

The free LSC audit by LSC managers known to the firm will now be replaced by chargeable audits by third party auditors.

The firm will have to pay a few thousand pounds for the privilege of being SQM audited.

And the firm will still face compliance, financial stewardship and peer review audits by the LSC under its LSC contract in any event.


So, if the firm is going to pay, why not pay a similar amount to be audited against the risk management requirements which have practice management and restful sleep benefits?

It may also get the firm a better deal at PII renewal time.

The end of the SQM

If most firms opt for the LEXCEL standard, will the SQM survive? It is easy to envisage the demise of the SQM in the next year or so if firms vote with their feet.